Posts Tagged Ray Lamontagne

Idol Thoughts — 03.10.10

Tonight, it’s the guys, fighting for a place in the Top 12 on American Idol. Here we go…

Lee Dewyze – “Fireflies” by Owl City – Great song. Lee sounds good singing it, doing an acoustic guitar-driven version with the raspy, rock vocal Lee’s clearly suited for. I’d say the song loses a little of its quirky charm in this version. But this guy is strong.

Alex Lambert – “Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne – Funny how certain songs keep popping up this season. This is one of those. I’m not sure it felt that authentic coming from Alex. Nice vocal. But that song calls for some deep soul. And maybe some life experience to back it up. Alex does have a unique vocal sound that he’s developing. Props for improvement. But he needs to start enjoying the moment–relishing his time on stage.

Tim Urban – “Hallelujah” (Jeff Buckley version) – Tim’s strummin’ the acoustic guitar tonight. Adequate vocal, considering he’s tackling some difficult material. We keep wanting more from this guy. And it does seem clear that Tim’s working hard. Another guy showing improvement. Hard work + general “adorableness” (for the ladies) = Tim Urban in the Top 12.

Andrew Garcia – “Genie In A Bottle” by Christina Aguilera – Well, my fave cover of this song is still by the band Speedway. But the song’s definitely one that lends itself nicely to some re-imagining. Nothing about Andrew’s version tonight was effortless. He did kinda battle with rhythm of the song without finding the groove. But I’d say Andrew makes the Top 12 without having to use any of his three wishes.

Casey James – “You’ll Think Of Me” by Keith Urban – After last week’s loud “I Don’t Want To Be,” Casey returns to the quiet. Just him,  his guitar and a stool, and this song. Well, and a couple of subtle background singers. Seems to me he could’ve done even more with this. But it was solid–if maybe a little too simple and plain.

Aaron Kelly – “I’m Already There” by Lonestar – I thought Aaron started the song with too much “warble” in his voice. Too much vibrato. He got control of that pretty quickly and turned in a nice vocal. This guy can go as far as his continued improvement will take him. Nice touch by Simon Cowell telling Kara DioGuardi that her comment was “complete rubbish.” Although I thought Kara made a point worth bringing up: this song is about a dad calling home to his family, and really doesn’t relate to 16-year old Aaron’s life-experience in any way.

Todrick Hall – “Somebody To Love” by Queen – I always want to like this song–whoever’s singing it. It’s just a fantastic song. I’m finding the background singers distracting for some reason. Todrick is barely there for me. I didn’t hear a vocal that lived up to the song. For me. Judges seem to have enjoyed it more than I did. Todrick clearly has the vocal chops–for Broadway, at least. That’s not a bad thing, as Broadway is where his paychecks have been coming from. But is he the next American Idol?

Michael Lynche – “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush – Despite Big Mike’s attempts earlier in the competition to be the big teddy bear version of Jason Mraz, he’s doing much better as a soul crooner. I liked this. A lot! Not familiar with the song. At all. But wow. You had to take notice. Kudos from judges are much deserved. Best of the night, fo’ sho’!

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 02.10.10

We learned two things last night on American Idol: 1) Group Day, where the contestants team up and sing together in small groups, is actually the easiest day of Hollywood Week to survive. More on this in a moment. And 2) Gwen Stefani‘s “The Sweet Escape” is apparently the quadruple axel of group vocals and should never again be attempted on this show!

The Group Day episode is usually filled with plenty of (often manufactured) drama and interpersonal conflict. It’s always chaotic and entertaining, even if the stakes are lower than producers would like you to believe. The night started with 96 contestants and ended with 71. That’s 25 people getting the ax. Or roughly 25 percent. For some perspective, the night before saw almost 50 percent of the Idol hopefuls packing their bags and heading home.

I’ve heard people ask why Group Day is necessary if American Idol is an individual competition. I guess the simplest justification is because later, when the show gets to the Top 12, Idol does those choreographed, group performances to kill time during the results show–not to mention several group numbers during the summer concert tour.

But there have been plenty of hopelessly flat-footed and awkward contestants in those group performances over the seasons. So for all its hoopla, Group Day is really about shining individually–and trying to lock down your place in the Top 24.

So who helped themselves last night? Well, generally talented singers who surrounded themselves with other talented singers. I know, it’s another one of Group Day’s contradictions. Even though contestants want to shine individually, performing next to lesser talents doesn’t make them look better. It actually makes them seem less bona fide and able.

Team Awesome, with Michael Lynche (“Big Mike’), Michael Castro, Tim Urban and Seth Rollins, is a perfect example of this. Big Mike’s been getting a lot of screen time, with his wife literally in the hospital giving birth to a daughter as her husband prepared with his group. Big Mike turned in a strong version of John Mayer‘s “Waiting On The World To Change” Tuesday night. But Team Awesome was merely Team Adequate on last night’s Motown classic, “Get Ready.” Big Mike and Tim Urban made it though. But Big Mike seemed less impressive.

Ashley Rodriguez, Michelle Delamor and Charity Vance performed early in the show as the group, Faith. Despite some heavy talent, I thought their version of Beyoncé‘s “Irreplaceable” was just pretty good, not fantastic. Theirs was a case of the parts being greater than the sum together. Great individual vocals that didn’t mesh as well as I would’ve thought. So much for team work. Anyway, they’re all through to the next round.

Much was made last night about the “showdown” between Neapolitan and Destiny’s Wild, who both chose to sing Lady GaGa‘s “Bad Romance.” Neapolitan featured Paige Miles, Thaddeus Johnson, Jessica Cunningham and Liz Rooney. Despite all of them being advanced to the next round, I didn’t hear a single Top 24 performer in there. They all seem like Hollywood Week fodder. Destiny’s Wild, with Siobhan Magnus, Jareb Liewer, Theri and Todrick Hall, represented the song better. It certainly was the most creative, with backflips and some sense of costume. But it was hardly the vocal standout of the night. Todrick Hall sang well. Everyone in Destiny’s Wild was also advanced to the next round.

Group Day rule: A really solid group effort can advance lesser singers (see paragraph above), while a really, really bad group performance can eliminate a good singer (see next paragraph).

I don’t know what these groups were thinking. “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani? It’s a hard song to master quickly, with its rapid-fire delivery and tongue-twisting lyrics. The job of pulling all this together and looking good on Group Day is hard enough without adding an extra level of difficulty. But apparently several groups chose the song, and from the montage we saw last night, and failed massively–including Big Dreams, which featured Matt Lawrence, who sounded great at the Orlando auditions (“Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne). Uncomfortable in the choreography, and singing a song that was all kinds of wrong for him, Matt, and everyone in his group, were dismissed. Matt’s not-so Sweet Escape maybe being the biggest surprise of the night.

For future reference, groups should also not attempt Barenaked Ladies “One Week” and R.E.M.‘s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Just puttin’ that out there.

The Mighty Rangers, Phoenix and the Dreamers all got plenty of airtime last night–mostly thanks to juicy internal conflicts that made for interesting television. Their actual group performances were largely forgettable. Not sure what we learned from these three. Except that rocker Mary Powers (Dreamers) is pushy and probably not as good as she thinks she is.

The best groups of the night got the least airtime. I guess getting along and working well together to achieve something good isn’t as interesting as the histrionics of group dysfunction. Middle C, with Janell Wheeler, Jermaine Purifory and Casey James did a great version of Ne-Yo‘s “Closer.” And early standouts Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens led the group Three Men and a Baby through a tasty version of Alicia Key‘s “No One.” Proving this point: surround yourself with other talented people. Best move you can make on Group Day.

Those are my thoughts this morning. What are yours?

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.20.10

Rebound night. Coming off Tuesday’s lackluster episode, American Idol‘s was looking for a little redemption at the Orlando auditions. They found it.

Redemption in the form of reformed Matt Lawrence, who spent four years in the pokey after robbing a bank with a BB Gun at age 15. Let’s look past the stupidity of that for a second, and just acknowledge that you have to have some giant cajones to pull that off.

So with a bank heist as a backstory, it was fitting Matt chose to sing “Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne. He owned it and had no trouble winning over the judges. There’s an authenticity to Matt’s vocals–soulful and effortless as he reaches for those power notes. Look for this laid-back country boy to stick around for a while.

The other big notable last night was Jermaine Purifory. This guy’s got a lot going for him. If he can put it all together, he could be the singer from the Orlando auditions that goes the farthest. Got the looks. Ladies will love that. Entered the audition room with personality and a big smile. And sang a sweet, natural and effortless version of “Smile” (Jermaina apparently knows the Tony Bennett version–but it’s the classic written by Charlie Chaplin).

But it wasn’t all smiles last night. Especially not for Jarrod Norrell, who was removed in handcuffs after he refused to leave the audition room. His rendition of “Amazing Grace” made us all feel like wretches! It sounded like a billy goat getting the Gitmo treatment. Actually, Gitmo’s probably the right place for this guy after the sonic terror he inflicted.

At this stage of the show, there’s something I’m going to call “The Free Pass.” Hollywood Week is a whole lot more interesting to watch if there are some underdogs, screw-ups and other reality TV character types in attendance. Watching the undeserving go home, the undisciplined waste their opportunity, and the dramatics of the various hot messes always makes for good television.

Yes, a few of these Free Passes who given out last night. Benefiting were the Disimone Sisters, who were seemingly advanced to Hollywood by FOX central casting who wouldn’t mind a little “Jersey Shore” on Idol. Big-haired Bernadette (blue dress) and Amanda (yellow dress) will be back at their jobs in mom’s salon soon enough. Very average voices. Yes, blue dress was a little more passable than yellow dress.

I’d almost put Shelby Dressel into the Free Pass category. She’s the 18-year old who can’t move the right side of her face due to a birth defect. Who doesn’t want to see this underdog do well? I know I do. And based on her audition, she deserves another shot to impress (Simon Cowell liked her, not her singing so much). I did some checking around, and it looks like Shelby’s pretty serious about making it in music. She already has a band, and you can hear some of her country-leaning tunes on her website.

That’s all I have time write about today. So apologies to Kristin Chenoweth, who only had enough free time to guest judge one of the two audition days? And Seth Rollins (dad of autistic son) who auditioned nicely with a soulful “Someone To Watch Over Me.” And Jay Stone, really? No one on Idol‘s ever sang and done beat box (as you tried to claim)? Umm…Blake Lewis ring a bell? Jay, I’m just sweatin’ ya. Good luck in Hollywood. (The disclaimer is in case I bump into Jay, who lives here in Miami.)

Those are my thoughts. Let me know yours!

Greg Valentine
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